Literacy is the beginning of lifelong learning, a prerequisite for accessing other human rights. It has the power to change the lives of millions of people who have received adequate formal education. But, mere attainment of literacy skills is not enough — such skills should be functional so that the youth and adults can use their ability to read and write to actively participate in the dynamic digitised world. Also, literacy should help in active participation in political, social, cultural, and economic activities.
Though we have witnessed steady progress in the attainment of literacy, the COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder of the need for revamping the teaching process. We must make adult literacy an integral part of our COVID-19 recovery plan.
This year’s International Day of Literacy has the theme “Literacy teaching and learning in the COVID-19 crisis and beyond”. The crisis has made us realise the catalytic role of the educator with technology as a facilitator — enabling them to use the transformative power of literacy for youth and adults alike. In the post-COVID-19 era, we must reconfirm our commitment to wipe out illiteracy from India.
Literacy promotion played a key part in the endeavours of illustrious leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, Jawaharlal Nehru and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who created a conducive atmosphere for the development of the mass literacy movement in India. The country has made earnest efforts to impart functional literacy and numeracy to adults in the age group of 15 years and above in both rural and urban areas through projects and programmes such as the Farmer’s Functional Literacy Project (FFLP), Functional Literacy for Adult Women (FLAW), National Adult Education Programme (NAEP), Rural Functional Literacy Project (RFLP), Mass Programme of Functional Literacy (MPFL) and National Literacy Mission (NLM).
The Saakshar Bharat project ran across 404 districts in 26 states and one Union Territory, covering 1.64 lakh gram panchayats. More than 10 crore learners appeared for the Basic literacy Assessment Tests conducted by the National Institute of Open Schooling from August 2010 to March 2018. A massive 7.64 crore learners (5.38 crore female, 2.26 crore males) passed the assessment tests and were certified as literate. But, still, India has a sizeable number of illiterates, which means the target of achieving 100 per cent literacy by 2030 remains a challenging one.
The COVID-19 crisis challenges the achievement of Target 4.6 of SDG by 2030 – “ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy”. The pandemic has underlined the importance of literacy — low literacy levels may cause deep distress to the nation.
To tackle the literacy-related challenges in the post-COVID-19 world, the ministry of education, under the guidance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is about to launch a new scheme for adult education, the Padhna Likhna Abhiyan. The focus of the scheme will be on the Basic Literacy component in a four months cycle — priority will be given to the 112 Aspirational Districts identified by the NITI Aayog. The scheme shall have a flexible approach and will involve innovative methodologies such as involving school and college students and other volunteers such as those from the NSS and NYKS, for imparting basic literacy. Massive literacy drives/projects will be implemented in tribal and forest areas, slums, minority pockets/villages/blocks, prisons, etc. The potential of digital technology will be harnessed for improving access and quality through the creation of digital e-material, mobile apps etc.
The Padhna Likhna Abhiyan envisions a giant leap towards achieving the goal of Total Literacy by 2030. To ensure the full outreach of the Padhna Likhna Abhiyan, efforts will be made to converge the programme with existing programmes of Rural Development, Health, Social Justice, Tribal Development, Women and Child Development, Panchayati Raj Institutions, NGOs, and Corporate Social Responsibility.
I appeal to retired government persons such as teachers and other employees, homemakers, and others to participate in our efforts to build a literate India by coming forward to teach adult illiterates. I will ensure that all the teaching-learning material will be made available free of cost in the public domain with instructions/guidelines for the teacher and learning material for the adult learners so that we are all on the same page.
The SDG target 4.6 can only be achieved if we all work together. Let us come together to develop a fully literate society — Saakshar Bharat-Aatmanirbhar Bharat.
The writer is Union Education Minister